Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tree of Jesse Scripture Readings for the Advent Season

Root of Jesse - 16th c. Michael Damaskinos

A great activity for the whole family during Advent is called the Tree of Jesse. 

A passage from the scriptures is read every day and an ornament is placed on a tree (a real Christmas tree or an artificial one placed in the living room; or a tapestry on the wall) for each one of the stories read. The Tree of Jesse symbolizes all the ancestors of Christ and 
the events that culminated with the coming of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is wonderful to sit with the family in front of the fireplace, early in the evening and read each one of the stories. The children get really excited about hanging the ornaments which can be home made or purchased in and other websites. Below is the list of readings for each day of Advent, which are linked to the readings themselves. Please click on the scripture passage for the reading. Between parentheses you will see the name of the ornament for that day.

Tree of Jesse with Readings for each day of Advent  and the Twelve Days of Christmas
From the Antioch Archdiocese Website
Most of the readings are linked to the NASB, except the readings from Daniel 3, Tobit and Baruch which were linked to the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA). The links are provided by the site This is a great resource!

Nov 15 Day 1: The Creation of the World (sun)         
                Genesis 1-2:4

Nov 16 Day 2: Creation of Man (man & woman)
                 Genesis 2:4-25

Nov 17 Day 3: Expulsion from Paradise (fruit)
                 Genesis 3:1-24

Nov 18 Day 4: Noah (rainbow)
                 Genesis 6:9-22

                 Genesis chapters 7 and 8

Nov 19 Day 5: Abraham (constellation of stars)
Genesis 12:1-7; 15:1-6; 17:1-9

Nov 20 Day 6: Sacrifice of Isaac (altar)
                 Genesis 22:1-18

Nov 21 Day 7: Jacob’s Ladder (ladder)
                 Genesis 28:10-17

Nov 22 Day 8: Joseph and his Brothers (coat of many colors)
                 Genesis 37:3-35

Nov 23 Day 9: Joseph’s Elevation (cow)
                Genesis 41,42,43,45:1-16

Nov 24 Day 10: Israel’s Blessing for Judah (lion)
               Genesis 49:1-2, 8-12

Nov 25 Day 11: Infant Moses (Basket)
              Exodus 1:8-22; 2:1-10

Nov 26 Day 12: Moses and the Burning Bush (burning bush)
              Exodus 3:1-20

Nov 27 Day 13: Plagues (frog)
              Exodus 6:29- 7:16; 7:14-8:15; 11:1; 12:1-13, 28-32

Nov 28 Day 14: Israel passes through the Red Sea (parted sea)
              Exodus 13:20-22; 14:1-31; 15:1-19

Nov 29 Day 15: Water in the Wilderness (staff)
                Exodus 15:20-16:1;17:1-7

Nov 30 Day 16: Commandments (stone tablets)
               Exodus 24:12-18

Dec 1    Day 17: Ruth (shock of wheat)
               Ruth chapters 1-4

Dec 2    Day 18: Birth of Samuel (horn)
              1 Samuel 1:1-2:10

Dec 3   Day 19: Samuel & Eli (lamp)
              1 Samuel 3:1-20

Dec 4  Day 20: David the Anointed King (sheep)
              1 Samuel 16:1-13

Dec 5  Day 21: David & Goliath (slingshot)
             1 Samuel 17:1-11; 17:32-54

Dec 6  Day 22: David the Psalmist (footstool)
              Psalm 110

Dec 7  Day 23: King Solomon (crown)
              1 Kings 1:32-40; 2:1-4,10,12; 3:5-14

Dec 8  Day 24: Elias the Prophet (burning rock)
              1 Kings 18;19;2 Kings 2:1-14

Dec 9  Day 25: Jonah the Prophet (whale)
               Jonah 1-4:11

Dec 10 Day 26: Tobias (fish)
              Tobit 5-9:6; 11:2-19; 12:6; 12:11-22

Dec 11 Day 27: Emmanuel (scroll)
              Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:1-4,8-10

Dec 12 Day 28: Rejoicing Foretold (throne)
              Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-10                 

Dec 13 Day 29: Visits of Kings Foretold (kings with camels)
              Isaiah 60:1-7

Dec 14 Day 30: Daniel (stone smashing a statue)
              Daniel 2:31-36,44-45

Dec 15 Day 31: 3 Holy Youths (flames)
              Daniel 3:1-88

Dec 16 Day 32: God’s Dwelling (Ark of the Temple)
              Exodus 40; 1 Kings 8

Dec 17 Day 33: Prayer of Habakkuk the Prophet (Mountain w/ a large cave- the stable) 
 Habakkuk 3:2-19
Dec 18 Day 34: Wisdom, Word and Power of God (open book)
             Baruch 3:36-38; 4:1-4

Dec 19 Day 35: Birth & Star Foretold (Star of David)
              Micah 5:1-4

Dec 20 Day 36: Zachariah (censer )
              Luke 1: 5-25

Dec 21 Day 37: Announcement (angel)
              Luke 1:26-38

Dec 22 Day 38: Visitation (Mary)
              Luke 1:39-56

Dec 23 Day 39: Joseph the Betrothed (Joseph)
              Matthew 1

Dec 24 Day 40: Journey to Bethlehem (manger)
              Luke 2:1-5

Twelve Days of Christmas
Dec 25 Day 1: Nativity (Infant Jesus)
              Luke 2:6-7

Dec 26 Day 2: Light of the World (radiant light)
              John 1:1-5,10-14

Dec 27 Day 3: Announcement (angel w/ trumpet)
             Luke 2:8-14

Dec 28 Day 4: Shepherds Prepare (standing shepherd)
              Luke 2:15

Dec 29 Day 5: Shepherds Visit (kneeling shepherd)
             Luke 2:16-20

Dec 30 Day 6: Star of Bethlehem (star)
             Matthew 2:1-2

Dec 31 Day 7: Wise Men Visit Herod (palace)
             Matthew 2:3-7

Jan 1  Day 8: Naming of Jesus (Jesus banner)
             Luke 2:20-21; Genesis 17:1-14

Jan 2  Day 9: Visit of the Wise Men (gifts of the wise men, gold, frankincense & myrrh)
            Matthew 2:9-12

Jan 3  Day 10: Flight to Egypt (sword)
            Matthew 2:13-23

Jan 4  Day 11: Song of Zachariah (dove)
           Luke 1:57-64; 1:67-80

Jan 5  Day 12: Baptist John (sandal)
           Luke 3:1-22

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Love of Money and Greed are Preeminently Sinful Dispositions of The Soul Towards God and Others

“Surely every man walks about as a phantom; Surely they 
make an uproar for nothing; He amasses riches and does not know who will gather them. Psalm 39:6 NASB

It is commonly believed that being successful means having acquired wealth. Even the dictionary defines the adjective as such. Social standing is directly proportional to one's wealth. The poor, of course, rank very low in this system of values. Their poverty is considered the result of incompetence or character flaws. 

Contempt for the poor is worn as a batch of honor, their poverty a highly contagious disease.  The individual is at the very center of all things. The common good and the well-being of the community is taken into consideration if, and only if, it does not interfere with the individual's self-centered pursuit of wealth. 

So, I wonder, is Orthodox Christianity in agreement with this state of affairs? What do the Church Fathers have to say about this? We must follow in the steps of the saints and the Fathers, the well trodden path of those who shed their blood for the Faith once delivered to the saints.

When I read the selections posted below for the first time, I was stunned! I was surprised that the Church Fathers have spoken with such clarity and with such detail even on the subjects of wealth and the common good. 

This selection of quotes is taken from the 
work of a great Patristic scholar, Dr Jean Claude Larchet, who in chapter 5 of Vol. 2 of Therapy of Spiritual Illnessesprovides a comprehensive look at the way of life and belief of the Fathers and saints, and shows how far, has modern man gone astray from the path that leads to true spiritual and material riches, health, and success.

"Generally speaking, love of money (
φιλαργυρία) means an attachment to money and the diverse forms of material wealth. This attachment is manifested in the delight experienced in its possession, the care in keeping it, the difficulty experienced in separating oneself from it, and the pain felt when one makes a gift of it."(1) See Notes below

Greed (πλεονεξία) is the will to acquire new goods, the desire to possess more.  Greed and love of money are two different passions but both proceed from the same attachment to material goods. and often in reality go hand in hand...

"The cause of these passions is neither money nor material goods themselves but rather man's perverse attitude towards them. The end goal of money and material goods is to be used by man so as to satisfy his needs relative to his subsistence. The greedy and avaricious confer upon (material goods) 'an intrinsic rather than utilitarian value and delight not
in their use but in their possession'(2)

The pathological character of greed and the love of money is constituted by the misuse of the desiderative faculty (of the soul), as well as all the other faculties implicated by these passions. But this misuse is not only defined in relation to material goods; more fundamentally, it is defined in relation to God, implicating in addition the relationships of man to himself and to his neighbor.

Although man in his original state placed all his desire for God and endeavored to conserve the spiritual riches received from Him..., in the case of these passions (love of money and greed), he turns his desire away from this normal end goal in order to turn it towards material goods alone."

Dr Larchet goes on to explain that since love of God, and love of money have their seat in the soul in the same desiderative power of the soul, they are incompatible with each other and mutually exclusive, "As Christ Himself teaches, 'No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon", Luke 16:13 Man distances himself all the more from God because he becomes attached to money...

St Nicetas Stethatos writes, 'greed impels men to love money more than they love Christ, to esteem what is material more highly than God, to worship creation rather than the Creator'. If you aspire to friendship with Christ, you will hate money and the gluttonous love of money, for money lures towards itself the mind of whoever loves it, and diverts it from love for Jesus' (3).

Thus money and the diverse forms of wealth occupy the place due to God in the life of the greedy and avaricious man, becoming idols for him. St Paul affirms that covetousness is idolatry and one who is covetous is an idolater. Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5.

Even if love of money and greed are not sufficiently developed so as to exclude God totally, they reveal a lack of faith and hope in Him...'he puts his trust in money more than in God' (4). He has an illusory impression of independence and of absolute mastery over his existence. Thus he cuts himself off from God.

Subject to these two passions, he lacks the most basic love with regards to himself; he prefers money and material riches to his own soul...Man cannot develop his spiritual potentialities and effect the blossoming of his nature, and thus he keeps himself enclosed within the limits of the fallen world...

Although he thinks to find happiness in the pleasure he experiences in acquiring and possessing, he condemns himself to dissatisfaction and finally to misfortune, since this pleasure is unstable, imperfect, transitory, and ends sooner or later. Above all, it takes the place of spiritual delights which are incomparably superior and alone capable of fully satisfying man... man in many ways becomes 'his own enemy' as St John Chrysostom says (5).

Man's relationship with his neighbor is also seriously disturbed by the passions of greed and love of money. According to the Church Fathers, the acquisition of riches is always to the detriment of others (6) St John Chrysostom proclaims that 'the rich and the greedy are thieves of a certain kind (7).

All men are indeed equal; they all have the same nature, they are all made in the image of God, and they are all saved by Christ. Without any exception, God has given the goods of this world as an endowment to all men, that they might delight in them in equal fashion (8).

The fact that some acquire and possess more than others contradicts the equality willed by God in the distribution of goods, and institutes an abnormal and non-natural state. Such a state did not exist in the beginning (9);  it has appeared as a consequence of the ancestral sin and has been maintained and developed due to the passions, in particular those of love of money and greed.

In truth, things belong to all as regards their use and delight, but they 'belong to no one as regards property' (10). One must use wealth as a steward, not as a sensualist, writes St Basil (11).

The Fathers emphasize that wealth is meant to be shared and divided up equitably (12). For this reason the Fathers never cease to invite the rich to share their wealth (13). The greedy and miserly show contempt for this end goal - the one by seeking and accumulating goods with only his own personal pleasure in mind, the other by egoistically holding on to his money. Both of these 'exceed the limit of what is lawful (14), in doing so for they think more of themselves than of their neighbor and contradict the basic precept of charity: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'.' Mark 12:30-31

The greedy and the miserly, always aiming at an egoistic pleasure, no longer look toward their neighbor; they cease to regard him as an equal and brother. They reject him who shares their nature, notes St Ambrose (15). They exclude and deprive their neighbor of the dignity conferred upon him by God, refusing to rank him among their companions, as St John Chrysostom observes (16). 

Love of money and greed give birth to an aversion of other men (17), and even make the one they possess pitiless and cruel (18). These passions constantly provoke arguments and disputes (19). St John Climacus writes in the Ladder,  step 17.14, that love of money produces hatred, thefts, envy, separations, storms, remembrance of wrongs, hard-hardheartedness, and murders. This passion is even the 'source of wars', writes St Basil.

Love of money and greed constitute a true illness of the soul. It is practically incurable if one allows it to develop and take root within oneself. St John Chrysostom warns, 'If we do not stop this passion from the beginning, once it has entered it strikes us with an illness that can no longer be healed (20). In similar manner, the Fathers do not hesitate to see in these two passions forms of madness (21).

Love of money and greed are the bulimia of the soul, 'The bulimia of the soul is avarice; the more it gorges in food, the more it desires. It always stretches out beyond what it possesses' (22).

This insatiability reveals the tyrannical character of  love of money and greed, which turn man into a 'slave of the things he has', writes St John Chrysostom. They enslave him to the devil more than all other passions (23). St John Chrysostom in his Commentary on the Psalms, writes that for those affected by love of money and greed, 'there is never tranquility, never security for the soul,,,neither day nor night brings them any appeasement...Rather they are tormented everywhere'.

Added to this anxiety is another basic pathological effect: sadness, the depressive state of the soul. This state most often results from the thwarting of the desire to possess more...St John Chrysostom writes, 'Where is the pleasure and rest of the spirit that one finds in wealth? I avow that I see there nothing but subjects of affliction and misery...and a sorrow which gives no respite whatsoever...The attachment that lovers of money have to their riches is not proof of the satisfaction they find in them, but rather of the sickness and disorder of their mind (24). These can be translated into somatic and mental illness! (See the episode recounted by Leontius of Neapolis, The Life of St John of Cyprus XXVII.

Love of money and greed engender other disorders which affect man's vision of reality and his relationship to it. They darken the nous (25) as St Hesychius the priest explains in 'Watchfulness and Holiness 57. Avarice is a terrible scourge; it closes the eyes, and shuts the ears of him who is possessed by it.  The avaricious regard others as objects. They do not give attention or consideration to anyone at all. 

The incoherent character of the avaricious man's perceptions of reality is revealed in how he regards the objects of wealth themselves...paying more attention to them than they really deserve. The Fathers often recall that gold or precious stones, for example, are in fact nothing but simple stones, earth (26). The avaricious man accords them an absolute value, considering them long-lasting, even eternal, although they are all perishable and destructible.

The avaricious man thus appears as swapping the present for eternity, the perishable for the immortal, the visible for the invisible, the true goods of the kingdom - the heavenly treasure - for illusory goods, the false riches of this world, writes St John Chrysostom.

Following St Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10, the Fathers affirm that love of money is the root and mother of all evils.

The therapy of love of money and greed is non-possessiveness and alms-giving.
First, St John Cassian writes in his Institutes that, we must know the illnesses of greed and love of money, their manifestation in the soul and in our behavior, and their consequences, as described in depth by the preceding paragraphs 

Second,  we must be aware of the vanity of the objects these passions pursue. As St Symeon the New Theologian states, "that all is a shadow and everything is passing". in Catecheses 19.130-143.

Third, we must be "content with what we have"  Hebrews 13:5

Fourth, we must acquire a firm Faith in God. St John Climacus writes that "Unwavering faith cuts off cares" in The Ladder, step 17.12

Fifth, man must put all his hope and trust in God who is the Provider of what we need for our subsistence, and also the source of spiritual riches.

Sixth, man can observe that the more he attaches himself to spiritual goods, the more he acquires, with regards to sensual goods, one of the opposing virtues to love of money and greed: detachment. St John Climacus writes, 'He who has tasted the things on high easily despises what is below'. Ladder, step 17.6.

Man can attain to this experience only when he stops living an utterly carnal life and unites himself to God through love and the practice of the commandments. Let us remember that the aim of healing love of money and greed is to permit man to unite himself to God, and to love Him with all mind, all his soul, and all his might. 

...Man's entire spiritual condition and destiny depend on the type of riches he desires to acquire and to which he is attached...'for where your treasure is', says Christ, 'there will your heart be also' Matthew 6:21

How is one healed of love of money and greed? St John Chrysostom says, "You will accomplish this if you substitute for this love[of money] the desire for the things of heaven" (27).

Non possessiveness and non-acquisitiveness are the virtues opposing love of money and greed. These signify the voluntary refusal to possess or acquire anything, save what it is strictly necessary for existence (28).  It is utterly essential that such non-possessiveness be an internal disposition and spiritual attitude regarding material goods. This virtue does not consist merely on not having things. One may have things without being attached to them. The perfection of this virtue is described by Christ when He said, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. Gospel of Matthew 19:21

Non-possessiveness is manifested interiorly by the absence of  preoccupation with material goods.

It would be useless to be without money if we retained the intention of possessing it; for it is possible for someone who owns no money to be still in no way free from avarice, and for poverty to be of no use to him at all, if he has been unable to eliminate the vice of desire (29).

The Therapy of Almsgiving
Abbah Isaiah counsels: "Let us exercise our love in charity towards the poor, that it might save us from love of money" (30)

The virtue of almsgiving (ελεημοσύνη) - recommended several times by Christ (31),  and evoked many times in St Paul's Epistles (32),  and in the Acts of the Apostles (33) - consists in sharing one's goods (34), giving one's superfluity to those in need (35) and even what is necessary for oneself to those who lack (36).

St John Chrysostom in his Commentary to the Gospel of John states that, Whoever gives of what he needs is naturally closer to the perfection of this virtue than someone who gives from his abundance, and all the more so than someone who only gives a portion of this overabundance. Whoever gives from what he needs exercises great mercy'.

The Greek word ελεημοσύνη does not only mean almsgiving, but also mercy and compassion, again emphasizing one's inner disposition, an act of love.

St John Chrysostom says, "It is much less for the assuagement of indigence that God has ordained almsgiving than for the advantage to those who give alms (37).

It is not the material size of the alms that determines their value, it is only necessary that they be proportionate to the means of the giver (38). St John Chrysostom never ceases to reassure those of meager means by underlining that God has in view first of all the goodwill they manifest and the purity of their intention. (Homilies to the Hebrews 1.4)

In order to have spiritual value, almsgiving must be done in a disinterested manner, i.e., the donor must not expect any profit of any kind, especially that which derives from self satisfaction, as the Lord said, "Freely you received, freely give" Matthew 10:8

As St Nikolai Velimirovich writes, "One should not give alms with pride but rather with humility, considering the one to whom the alms are given to be better than oneself. Did not the Lord Himself say: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me? (Matthew 25:40) 

Theophanes the Confessor possessed a mind illumined by the light of Christ, even as a child. Once, while walking along the street, he saw a naked child freezing. He quickly removed his
clothes, clothed the child and thus warmed him and brought him back to life. He then returned home naked.

His startled parents asked him: ``Where are your clothes?'' To this Theophanes replied: ``I clothed Christ.'' This is why he was given the grace of Christ, and was later a great ascetic, a sufferer for the Christian Faith and a miracle-worker.

Often, when we give alms, either in someone else's name or in our own name, we cannot avoid pride which, as soon as it appears in the heart, destroys all the good deeds performed. When we give to the beggar as to a beggar and not as to Christ, we cannot avoid pride or disdain. What value is there in performing an act of mercy, while taking pride in ourselves and disdaining the man? Virtue is not a virtue when it is mixed with sin, just as milk is not milk when it is mixed with gasoline or vinegar."  St Nikolai Velimirovich in The Prologue from Ochrid. Reading for September 9th.

We must also keep in mind Christ warning when He said. "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:2-4

For much more on this subject of love of money, and its cure, non-possessiveness and almsgiving please read, 

Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses by Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet
is available from St Tikhon's Monastery Press and Bookstore

Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses by Dr Jean Claude-Larchet,
Translated by Fr Kilian Sprecher, 3 volume boxed set
Copyright @2012 Alexander Press, Montreal, Quebec,
ISBN - 1-896800-39-4
Alexander Press


1. Cf. Maximos the Confessor, Four Centuries
On Charity III.17-18

2. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel
of St Matthew 83a, and St Basil the Great, Against
the Rich 7.2 

3. St Nicetas Stethatos, Centuries II.55

4. St Maximos the Confessor, Four Centuries on Charity III.18

5. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel  of St Matthew 70.4

6. St Ambrose of Milan, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Great, St John Chrysostome and St Symeon the New Theologian, etc.

7. St John Chrysostom, On Lazarus 1. Cf. Homilies on 1 Corinthians 29.8

8. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 42. St Ambrose of Milan, Naboth the Poor 2.
St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 14. St Symeon the New Theologian, Catecheses 9.93.

9. St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 14.

10. St Symeon the New Theologian, Catecheses 9.95-97

11. St Basil, Against the Rich 7.3 Cf. St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 26.11

12. St John Chrysostome, Homilies on Genesis 35.5.  

13. See for example, St Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 14.26. St Gregory of Nyssa, On Love of the Poor 1.7. St Basil the Great, Against the Rich 7.3. St Mark the Ascetic, On Repentance 5.

14. St Basil the Great, Short Riules 48.

15. St Ambrose, Naboth the Poor 2

16. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 42.

17. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 83.2

18. St Nicetas Stethatos, Letters 4.6

19. St John Climacus, Ladder 17.11

20. St John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 9.4

21. St John Chrysostom, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Theodoret of Cyrus, St Andrew of Crete, St Basil the Great.

22. St John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Timothy 7.2

23. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 13.4

24. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 38.3

25. The word 'intellect' (nous) as used by St Hesychius the Priest in  this text, does not refer to reason, discursive thinking or logical thinking, but to the organ of the soul by which the soul can 'know', that is directly apprehend, spiritual realities; not by drawing conclusions, but directly under the inspiration of divine Grace. The Greek language makes a distinction between nous (translated as 'intellect' here) which is the spiritual organ of knowledge of the soul; and diania or 'reason' the organ of knowledge of the brain through the senses and discourse. Orthodox Christian anthropology affirms that man has both organs of knowledge. Thoughts, reason and the senses can interact with the nous, both in a positive and in a negative manner, and in that way affect the heart, the spiritual center of man.

26. St Ambrose of Milan, Naboth the Poor 26.

27. Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 9.6

28. St John Cassian in Institutes VII.21,29 and St Isaac the Syrian in the Ascetical Homilies 33.

29. St John Cassian, Institutes VII.21

30. Asketikon 16.

31. Mt 5:42, 6:2, 10:18, 19:21; Luke 3:11, 6:30,38, 12:33; Mk 10:21

32. Rom 12:8, 1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8:3-15, 9:8; Gal 2:10

33. Acts 3:26, 4:35, 10:2-4, 20:35

34. St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew 45.2, 53.2

35. Luke 3.11; 2 Cor 8:13-15; St Isaac the Syrian , Ascetical Homilies 33, St John Chrysostom, Homilies on this text, 'There Must be Divisions' 9; Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews 1.4, 53.2

36. Mk 12:43-44.

37. St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Almsgiving 4

38. 2 Cor 8:3-11; Mk 12:43-44; and St John Chrysostom in several of his homilies, on Acts21.5; on Romans 19.7; on Colossians1.6; on Hebrews 1.4

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Judging

Reliquary of the Apostle Paul

Church of Agiou Pavlou, Thessaloniki, Greece

The beloved apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gave them a commandment "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore.." Romans 14:10, 12-13

Right after our Lord Jesus Christ chose his twelve apostles and gave them what we know as the 'Beatitudes', he commanded them to "judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."Luke 6:37

Metropolitan Jonah defines judging as "objectifying our brother according to his sin''. And what does this mean? It means reducing our brother to his sin and identifying our brother by and only by his sin. It means considering our brother to be his sin and no longer an immortal soul that encompasses much more than just his sin. By judging we place ourselves over our brother usurping the place of God, and we forget the gospel commandment to love our neighbor.

Now I propose that this objectification of our brother happens not only when we judge our brother but also when we sin against our fellow human being in any other way. Murderers, for example must dehumanize their victims before the brutal act is done. Think about the Holocaust. The Jews were undressed, branded as cattle and carried in trains designed to carry animals, taken to ovens in concentration camps and then slaughtered by the Nazis.

A person betraying a spouse by adultery objectifies both the spouse and the other person with whom he or she commits adultery. The spouse is often reduced to an object unfit to satisfy the adulterer's 'needs'. And the consort is in reality nothing more than a body whose function is to satisfy those same 'needs'. This objectification process goes on whether we are aware of it or not, in just about any sin against our neighbor. Pride, egotism and selfishness is at the heart of it.

Clearly, some situations we face in life require our assessment. But we must remember that even then, our brother is a soul that could be corrected, that he is much more than his sin, and that if he repents while we continue holding his sin against him, we will be judged with the same severity with which we judged our brother, while he will be vindicated by God. 

Most of our sins are committed in secret and only God, our father confessor and we ourselves know when our repentance takes place. The fathers teach that when we judge our brother we are in grave danger of being delivered over by God, to the sin we are judging. 

Geronda Ephraim of Philotheou and now St Anthony's tells us in his 'Counsels from the Holy Mountain' p.207 "When we judge our brother, we condemn ourselves to a great sin. But when we cover our brother, God will also protect us from grave sins. When we expose our brother, we drive the grace of God away from us and He permits us to fall into the same sins so that we learn that we are all weak and that the grace of God supports us."

Discernment is not guile. It is neither, cunning, malice or cleverness. Discernment is not judging present experiences in the light of past ones. It is not being astute or wise in the ways of the world. All of these things I just mentioned are sin. 

Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit given only to those in a very high level of purification of their souls. Discernment is described in step 26Th of the Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus. The saint tells us that;

"Discernment in beginners is true knowledge of themselves; in intermediate souls it is a spiritual sense that faultlessly distinguishes what is truly good from what is of nature and opposed to it.; and in the perfect, it is knowledge which they have within by Divine illumination, and which can enlighten with its lamp what is dark in others. 

Or perhaps, generally speaking, discernment is, and is recognized as, the certain understanding of the Divine Will on all occasions, in every place and in all matters; and it is only found in those who are pure in heart, and in body and in mouth." p 161.

Therefore, if discernment is such a rare gift of the Holy Spirit, who can judge with righteous judgement? Our judgement will certainly be tainted by our own sin. Let us learn humility and occupy ourselves with our own souls. And remember , in the words of St Silouan and Elder Sophrony that 'our brother is our life';

"O Lord, give me tears that my soul may weep for the love of my brother day and night"  St Silouan The Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony p.468

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Evergetinos - a Jewel of Orthodox Holy Tradition is now available in English

The Evergetinos 4 volume collection is available from Eastern Christian Supply Company and from The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies.

"The Evergetinos is a vast collection of sayings and stories from the desert Fathers, monastics and hermits, on various aspects of the spiritual life. The collection was compiled in the eighteenth-century by Hieromonk Paul and Macarios of Corinth along with Nicodemos the Hagiorite, who was responsible for putting together a manuscript for publication based upon a number of manuscripts scattered among the libraries of the Holy Mountain." Source

"The Evergetinos provides us with anecdotal evidence that the practice of Christian virtues, such as humility, chastity, love for our neighbor, and submission to the will of God, can bring us to the brink of the ultimate encounter with the divine by which we are elevated to the higher struggle for perfection.
"In the Evergetinos we are guided to the pragmatic life of humility and self-control (composure), the indispensable requisites for the more advanced endeavor of the life of prayer. In the Evergetinos we see the virtuous lives of the desert monks who, during the first few centuries of Christianity, fled to the barren deserts around the Mediterranean and lived the most extreme and awe-inspiring lives of asceticism in a search for God.

The Fathers (and among the Fathers, we include the spiritual Mothers) who dwelled in the desert and whose lives fill the Evergetinos are much like the sacred icons of the Orthodox Church. By naturalistic standards, they are distorted, strange, and foreign to us, images at times seemingly appropriate to the fanciful. Nevertheless, just as icons draw us into their spiritual auras and become windows through which we see faint glimpses of the heavenly world, so the Fathers of the desert draw us into the sphere of their spiritual power and force us deep into the recesses of our consciences and allow us to look on the almost lost spiritual powers dwelling unheeded within ourselves...

The desert Fathers speak of sexual desire, envy, greed, jealousy, hate, and the most complex human foibles. They expose to us what is all too familiar and obvious. They let us see with alarming clarity the depth of our depravity and the labyrinths of our sinful inner chasms. And though we probably cannot attain to the fullest extent the virtues by which these holy hermits overcame human depravity, we can see clearly the folly of a modern world seeking goodness, truth, purity, and virtue without first humbling itself before its Creator and the subtle inward world of spiritual truth. Hearing today of virtues, the ancient Fathers show them, by their examples, to be plastic virtues. Seeing today monuments of faith built with stone and mortar, the desert dwellers show us monuments of faith built on flesh and blood.

As we enter into the world of beginning monks, freshly having left the world, and accomplished elders who have gained discernment of the inner life, spiritual discretion, the ability to see into the hearts and minds of others, we embark on a journey into a strangely real world. In the small communities of monks gathered in the wilderness (sketes), we find those who, in their lives and by their experience, vivify the rules and commandments of Christian conduct...

And we see the mystical rewards and products of virtuous lives in these examples of perfection attained on earth. Indeed, we have an elemental encounter with what the Orthodox Christian life encompasses: a set of beliefs and practices gleaned from experience and a profound way of life, not a system based on regimented acts coldly governed by abstract beliefs and rules propped up with mere emotionalism. We touch what gives our otherwise vain and fruitless efforts in the Christian life their meaning and content. Standing before us is the answer to modern disbelief: the possibility of deeper life and the fulfillment of lost goals which, at least in the wild attempts by many contemporary religious groups to give external meaning to an internally moribund Christianity, have become meaningless, if not ignominious, pursuits."

For your benefit, I post below the complete table of contents of all four volumes. Reading this alone is a lesson on Orthodox spirituality and practice.

"Table of Contents  from the website of Eastern Christian Supply
The Evergetinos׃ A Complete Text, Book I
Publication Data: Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008
Format: softcover
ISBN: 978‒0‒911165‒7‒53

Chief Editors and Translators: Archbishop Chrysostomos, Hieromonk Patapios
Assisted by Bishop Ambrose, Bishop Auxentios, Monk Chrysostomos, Constantine Kokenes, Nun Lydia, John V. Petropoulos, John E. Rexine, Reverend Gregory Telepneff


by Archbishop Chrysostomos
by Hieromonk Gorazd
Prologue (Προοίμιον)
by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
Hypothesis I
No one should despair ever, even if he has committed many sins, but should have hope that, through repentance, he shall be saved.
Hypothesis II
As long as we are in the present life, we must do good here and not delay until the future. For after death we cannot set things aright.
Hypothesis III
Concerning how we should repent.
Hypothesis IV
That the afflicted should be guided slowly in the works of repentance.
Hypothesis V
That we must always call to mind death and the future judgment; for he who does not continually expect death and the future judgment is easily overcome by the passions.
Hypothesis VI
The joy of Heaven is inexpressible, as is the glory which awaits the Saints; therefore, we must remember with our whole souls the joy of Heaven and the glory of the Saints. In all that we accomplish, nothing is equal to that joy and glory.
Hypothesis VII
Many times the souls of virtuous people are made cheerful at the time of death by some Divine overshadowing, and thus they depart from the body.
Hypothesis VIII
Regarding those who die and come to life again, and how this happens by Divine Providence. And how many times sinners while still alive, beholding the torments of Hell and the demons, shudder with fear; and in this state of fear, their souls depart the body.
Hypothesis IX
Proof of where the souls of the dying go and how they exist after their separation from the body.
Hypothesis X
The soul, after its departure from the body, undergoes testing in the air by evil spirits which encounter it and attempt to impede its ascent.
Hypothesis XI
How, after death, souls are assigned to the same place as those souls which lived in a similar way on earth.
Hypothesis XII
God-loving parents should rejoice and be thankful for the trials and temptations that their children endure for the sake of the Lord. As well, parents who love God should exhort their children to struggle and to risk all for the sake of virtue.
Hypothesis XIII
How one renouncing the world should go to a remote place; what constitutes a remote place and what benefit derives from it; and what places are most appropriate for living out the ascetic life.
Hypothesis XIV
From whence the fear and love of God are first engendered in man and to what extent he is obliged to fear and love God.
Hypothesis XV
It is essential for those who have abandoned the world not to communicate with their relatives according to the flesh or to nurture the slightest interest in them.
Hypothesis XVI
We must love our relatives in the flesh equally with our other brothers, as long as our relatives lead a similar kind of life; if, however, they conduct themselves in a way discordant with that of our brothers, we must avoid them as harmful.
Hypothesis XVII
How he who becomes a monk must bare himself of all things, and how he must dispose of everything which belongs to him. That the existence of personal property for a monk in a cœnobitic monastery is clearly disastrous.
Hypothesis XVIII
It is necessary for one who wishes to be saved to seek the company of virtuous people and, as a thing much beneficial, to question them with exceeding desire and flaming zeal, so as to learn from them all those things which are essential for the salvation of the soul.
Hypothesis XIX
Regarding the necessity of obedience: what benefits arise from it and how a man accomplishes it.
Hypothesis XX
That one should not trust in himself in anything, but should heed the advice of the Fathers in all things and should clearly confess the secrets of his heart without hiding anything.
Hypothesis XXI
That we must confess our thoughts to those among the Fathers who are discerning and not entrust them to just anyone; how we are to confess and what we should ask our confessors; what faith we should place in the answers of the Fathers; and how, through this faith, we should work together with our confessors for the achievement of good.
Hypothesis XXII
Concerning the fact that he who wishes to be saved must avoid meetings with careless men and must avoid disturbances, and that estrangement from worldly affairs is necessary for him.
Hypothesis XXIII
Concerning the fact that we must keep away from those who harm us, even if they are friends or are otherwise quite indispensable.
Hypothesis XXIV
Concerning the fact that one who has renounced the world should not be entangled at all with earthly affairs, even if they seem justified, but should submit to Divine Providence in these matters also.
Hypothesis XXV
Concerning the fact that evil is easy, and that there are many who choose this, especially in our day; that virtue is demanding, and that there are few who pursue it; and that we must emulate the latter and pay no heed to the majority.
Hypothesis XXVI
Those coming to the monastic life are received with much testing; those admitted after scrutiny are for the most part reliable; what tasks are entrusted to them.
Hypothesis XXVII
Rejections of the world based on different circumstances should not be wholly turned aside; we should not immediately dismiss someone who comes to the monastic community and fervently seeks to remain with the brethren, before we have examined him in detail; rather, we should grant him some possibility of staying and test him in accordance with what we have written. After we have ascertained that he is abiding by his intention, and after testing him, we should accept him into the monastic community, unless something happens that is forbidden by the Divine laws.
Hypothesis XXVIII
From what point we should begin a life of asceticism; all who start need patience and need to put pressure on themselves, since virtue appears difficult at the beginning, on account of one’s passions and prejudices; but later on it proves to be much easier to acquire; a strong foundation at the beginning is very beneficial; it is impossible to follow Christ or to gain any virtue at all if one does not prepare himself as though his death were imminent.
Hypothesis XXIX
The demons wage a furious war against him who struggles with all his strength, whereas they are uninterested in the negligent, since they have them at their beck and call; those who want the good find God to be their ally, Who permits wars for our spiritual profit.
Hypothesis XXX
We should not regard the demons as causes of all the sins we commit, but rather ourselves; for the demons are unable to harm those who are attentive, since the help that comes from God is great; and that God allows struggles in proportion to the strength of men.
Hypothesis XXXI
One who has come to the ascetical life should only be clothed in monastic garb after he has been sufficiently trained in the virtues; the monastic schema is honorable, soul-profiting, and salvific.
Hypothesis XXXII
The faithful monk should display a manner of life that is appropriate to hisschema; for he who does not live in conformity with his schema is not faithful; likewise, a Godly old age is not characterized by length of time, but by the way in which a man lives.
Hypothesis XXXIII
The faithful monk should eagerly accept whatever his spiritual Father suggests to him, because all such suggestions are in his interest, even if they induce distress or are arduous; for mercy is given by God for this purpose and for the alleviation of afflictions.
Hypothesis XXXIV
We should be obedient to our superiors in the Lord, even unto death, and love and fear them.
Hypothesis XXXV
We should be subject in simplicity to our superiors in the Lord and accept their orders as coming from God, without criticizing, examining, or correcting them, even if they do not seem for the time being to be of benefit.
Hypothesis XXXVI
What the sins of disobedience and grumbling against our teachers in the Lord are; the Christian should not object at all or justify himself, but should in all cases resist his own will and love reproof, not avoid it.
Hypothesis XXXVII
One should not condemn his teacher, even if his teacher does some things at variance with what he teaches; for many disciples have entrusted themselves to negligent teachers and, not having condemned them, but remaining subject to them in the Lord, have saved themselves and have become the cause of their teachers’ salvation.
Hypothesis XXXVIII
How the Grace of God often teaches those who watch over themselves and entrust themselves to His Providence what they ought to do through simple people and strangers; the humble do not refuse to learn from anyone they may encounter.
Hypothesis XXXIX
The faithful Christian should not be confident in himself, but should believe that through his spiritual Father he is both saved and enabled to do everything good; and he should invoke the prayers of his Elder, for they have great power.
Hypothesis XL
That one should not lightly go out of, or withdraw from, the monastery in which he has promised, in the sight of God, to remain until the end of his life; for the Fathers did not even go out of their cells, in which they found great benefit.
Hypothesis XLI
That for those who are not prepared, it is perilous to live alone.
Hypothesis XLII
That we should not gainsay anyone in a contentious manner even regarding those things that are considered good, but should be subject to our neighbor in everything.
Hypothesis XLIII
That whatever happens, happens by the justice of God; for this reason the believer must always follow Divine Providence and must seek, not his own will, but the Will of God; for he who does or accepts all things in this manner has spiritual rest.
Hypothesis XLIV
That humility is completely impregnable to demons, how humility is engendered, and what its power is; that humility, more than all the other virtues, is able, by itself, to save a man.
Hypothesis XLV
A distinctive mark of the humble man is that he blames and disparages himself and thinks that his good deeds, howsoever many and whatsoever they may be, amount to nothing; what the characteristic traits of humility are, and what are its fruits.
Hypothesis XLVI
Concerning what profit there is in reproaching ourselves.
Hypothesis XLVII
That we should not seek honor or desire privileges; for whatever men reckon to be honorable is an abomination to God.
Hypothesis XLVIII
That to appear humble, when this is done inopportunely or excessively, is not beneficial, but harmful; how we ought to act towards those who praise us, and that praise does no harm at all to one who is attentive.
Hypothesis XLIX
Concerning how one should use clothing, what kind, and up to what point, in order to cover the body, and how the Fathers loved frugality in their very dress; the faithful should prefer frugality in every circumstance.
Hypothesis L
That we should not do anything to gratify ourselves or do anything out of a passionate craving.
Glossary of General Terms in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity
Index of Selected Names in Book I
Index of Selected Subjects in Book I 

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  • The Spiritual World of St Isaac the Syrian by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan 2000
  • The Way of A Pilgrim R.M. French, ISBN 345-24254-8-150
  • We Shall See Him As He Is by Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, ISBN 0-9512786-4-9
  • Wisdom. Let Us Attend: Job, The Fathers, and The Old Testament by Johanna Manley, ISBN: 0-9622536-4-2
  • Words of Life by Archimandrite Sophrony, Trans. by Sister Magdalen, ISBN1-874679-11-8
  • Writings from The Philokalia On Prayer of The Heart, Trans. by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, ISBN: 0-571-16393-9